From Hans Christian Andersen's story to the screen by Jean Renoir, Catherine Hessling as Karen evokes delight and pathos.
On a cold New Year's Eve, a poor girl tries to sell matches in the street. She is freezing badly, but she is afraid to go home because her father will beat her for not selling any matches. She takes shelter in a nook and lights the matches to warm herself. In their glow, she sees several lovely visions including a Christmas tree and a holiday feast. The girl looks skyward, sees a shooting star, and remembers her deceased grandmother saying that such a falling star means someone died and is going into Heaven. As she lights her next match, she sees a vision of her grandmother, the only person to have treated her with love and kindness. She strikes one match after another to keep the vision of her grandmother nearby for as long as she can. The child dies and her grandmother carries her soul to Heaven. The next morning, passers-by find the dead child in the nook.
Most terribly cold it was; it snowed, and was nearly quite dark, and evening--
the last evening of the year. In this cold and darkness there went along the
street a poor little girl, bareheaded, and with naked feet. When she left home
she had slippers on, it is true; but what was the good of that? They were very
large slippers, which her mother had hitherto worn; so large were they; and
the poor little thing lost them as she scuffled away across the street,
because of two carriages that rolled by dreadfully fast.
One slipper was nowhere to be found; the other had been laid hold of by an
urchin, and off he ran with it; he thought it would do capitally for a cradle
when he some day or other should have children himself. So the little maiden
walked on with her tiny naked feet, that were quite red and blue from cold.
She carried a quantity of matches in an old apron, and she held a bundle of
them in her hand. Nobody had bought anything of her the whole livelong day; no
one had given her a single farthing.
She crept along trembling with cold and hunger--a very picture of sorrow, the
poor little thing!
The flakes of snow covered her long fair hair, which fell in beautiful curls
around her neck; but of that, of course, she never once now thought. From all
the windows the candles were gleaming, and it smelt so deliciously of roast
goose, for you know it was New Year's Eve; yes, of that she thought.
In a corner formed by two houses, of which one advanced more than the other,
she seated herself down and cowered together. Her little feet she had drawn
close up to her, but she grew colder and colder, and to go home she did not
venture, for she had not sold any matches and could not bring a farthing of
money: from her father she would certainly get blows, and at home it was cold
too, for above her she had only the roof, through which the wind whistled,
even though the largest cracks were stopped up with straw and rags.
Her little hands were almost numbed with cold. Oh! a match might afford her a
world of comfort, if she only dared take a single one out of the bundle, draw
it against the wall, and warm her fingers by it. She drew one out. "Rischt!"
how it blazed, how it burnt! It was a warm, bright flame, like a candle, as
she held her hands over it: it was a wonderful light. It seemed really to the
little maiden as though she were sitting before a large iron stove, with
burnished brass feet and a brass ornament at top. The fire burned with such
blessed influence; it warmed so delightfully. The little girl had already
stretched out her feet to warm them too; but--the small flame went out, the
stove vanished: she had only the remains of the burnt-out match in her hand.
She rubbed another against the wall: it burned brightly, and where the light
fell on the wall, there the wall became transparent like a veil, so that she
could see into the room. On the table was spread a snow-white tablecloth; upon
it was a splendid porcelain service, and the roast goose was steaming famously
with its stuffing of apple and dried plums. And what was still more capital to
behold was, the goose hopped down from the dish, reeled about on the floor
with knife and fork in its breast, till it came up to the poor little girl;
when--the match went out and nothing but the thick, cold, damp wall was left
behind. She lighted another match. Now there she was sitting under the most
magnificent Christmas tree: it was still larger, and more decorated than the
one which she had seen through the glass door in the rich merchant's house.
Thousands of lights were burning on the green branches, and gaily-colored
pictures, such as she had seen in the shop-windows, looked down upon her.
The little maiden stretched out her hands towards them when--the match went
out. The lights of the Christmas tree rose higher and higher, she saw them now
as stars in heaven; one fell down and formed a long trail of fire.
"Someone is just dead!" said the little girl; for her old grandmother, the
only person who had loved her, and who was now no more, had told her, that
when a star falls, a soul ascends to God.
She drew another match against the wall: it was again light, and in the lustre
there stood the old grandmother, so bright and radiant, so mild, and with such
an expression of love.
"Grandmother!" cried the little one. "Oh, take me with you! You go away when
the match burns out; you vanish like the warm stove, like the delicious roast
goose, and like the magnificent Christmas tree!" And she rubbed the whole
bundle of matches quickly against the wall, for she wanted to be quite sure of
keeping her grandmother near her. And the matches gave such a brilliant light
that it was brighter than at noon-day: never formerly had the grandmother been
so beautiful and so tall. She took the little maiden, on her arm, and both
flew in brightness and in joy so high, so very high, and then above was
neither cold, nor hunger, nor anxiety--they were with God.
But in the corner, at the cold hour of dawn, sat the poor girl, with rosy
cheeks and with a smiling mouth, leaning against the wall--frozen to death on
the last evening of the old year. Stiff and stark sat the child there with her
matches, of which one bundle had been burnt. "She wanted to warm herself,"
people said. No one had the slightest suspicion of what beautiful things she
had seen; no one even dreamed of the splendor in which, with her grandmother
she had entered on the joys of a new year.
July 19, 2013 Subject:
Jean Renoir's The Little Match Girl
This is a silent film, an early work of Jean Renoir. It is very artistic, a delicate flower. Considering the lack of special effects technology in the day, this was very well done. It's not comparable to a more modern film, but you can see the artistry blooming.
The story is beautifully presented, tugging at your heart.